Tuesday, August 1, 2023

CD Odyssey Disc 1664: The Band

I’m pretty damned tired after a long day of work and would like nothing more than to sit catatonic on the couch and not write this review. But if I did that, I would be stuck with this record for another day, and fatigue be damned, for that I cannot abide.

Disc 1664 is…Music from Big Pink

Artist: The Band

Year of Release: 1968

What’s up with the Cover?  Here’s an idea – the next time you do an album named after the iconic house you recorded the album in, maybe just put a picture of the house on the cover?

This looks like The Band went back in time to when they were all toddlers and let them paint their future album cover.

Just kidding. This childlike monstrosity was actually painted by Bob Dylan. I wish I was kidding about that as well but alas, Bob really was responsible.

How I Came To Know It: I’ve known an iconic song off this album for years, and its reputation preceded it. Then I watched a solid documentary on the Band and in a moment of weakness bought this record and one other.

How It Stacks Up: I have two albums by The Band (but not for long). Of the two, “Music from Big Pink” comes in at #2. Both are leaving my collection shortly after I click “post”.

Rating: 2 stars and I’m being charitable

“Music from Big Pink” is a record that warbles its way between self-indulgent moaning and unfocused hippy bullshit. I don’t know how I was once far enough under the spell of The Band to buy one of their records, let alone two, but consider me cured.

Yeah, yeah. This is one of the iconic records of the late sixties, and when I watched the 2019 documentary “Once Were Brothers” about the Band I was temporarily swayed by its very memorable hit, and the reputation of the group’s musicianship.

That hit is “The Weight” and I still love this song. At one time I could even play it on guitar. The blending of the various vocals (mostly Levon Helm and Rick Danko) is sublime and despite this song having a hippy vibe I would come to hate on the rest of this record, it feels free and easy in the best way possible. You’ll feel a bit unfocused and lazy, but you’ll like the experience. This is a song for hitchhiking across the USA in a fringed leather jacket and an ironic cowboy hat. Maybe sandals as well, or maybe bare feet. Anyway, the song is great fun, both to play and to listen to.

Also passable is the cover of “Long Black Veil” but it isn’t anything special Danko does with the vocals (if anything it plods a little). It’s just that the song is so unassailably brilliant. But if you want to listen to it and only have room for one version, go with the Johnny Cash. This one is just…OK.

Not OK is the rest of this record, which sounds like what it is – a bunch of talented musicians getting high on their own supply after being cooped up in a house (apparently a pink one) for too many consecutive days. Yeah, they are talented, and they have a sneaky way to sound sloppy with each other while artfully playing around with the timing. That’s clever enough, but just because I could recite a poem in Morse code by turning the lights on and off wouldn’t make it fun for whoever was in the room.

In this case, I was the person in the room, subjected to each member of the band nodding sagaciously to whatever groove their compatriots were putting down, before dropping a riff or a beat or a run on the organ as the mood strikes them. Do they come in late? No. Early? No. They are all right in time, but it is still manages to end up a hot mess. Look at the Band play, ladies and gentlemen! Revel in their innovation! Just don’t expect to enjoy yourself.

There are so many frustrating masturbatory moments on the record, although I think the organ solo on “Chest Fever” is the worst of all. This song even has a passable hook, but the Band aren’t content to explore that. They need to sail off into some self-referential echo chamber. I can’t tell if they are deliberately drinking their own bathwater, or they are just so deep into the groove that they are creating this stuff accidentally through inadvertent and mis-applied genius. I think it’s the latter.

At least four of the Band take on lead vocals at some time or other, and I was amazed how they all annoyed me in unique and innovative ways. There are high pitched wails, and mid-range warbles and various call-and-answer moments, none of which (except on the aforementioned “The Weight”) gave me any joy.

I recognize that in having this reaction I am offside with the vast majority of music critics, music listeners and the very history of modern music itself. So be it. I can’t pretend to like this just because it is supposed to be good.

Not only am I getting rid of this record, I’m getting rid of their self-titled follow-up as well. It is better, but since I got these records three years ago I’ve never put either on, and now I realize I never will. Instead I’ll pass them both along to someone who likes it a lot better than I did. They won’t be hard to find.

Best tracks: The Weight, Long Black Veil

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